Don't Run Out of Money

And the 4 other jobs of a founder/CEO

I know you read the subject line already but I’ll say it again:

Don’t run out of money.

As a founder, and more specifically as a CEO, your number one job is to keep the company going. Literally everything else is secondary.

This is why the OpenAI saga finally ended when board member Helen Toner was quoted in The New York Times saying that “if the company was destroyed, she said, that could be consistent with its mission.”

No matter what you think about their issues with governance, that mindset isn’t compatible with leading a company and especially not a startup.

But it isn’t just about money — there are also other jobs that a founder/CEO uniquely has.

I recently caught up with my friend Bill Kerr, the founder of Athyna, who writes about founder-led leadership in his newsletter Open Source CEO, and we jammed on what the true jobs of a founder/CEO are.

We came up with five and co-wrote this week’s piece about them:

The 5 Jobs of a Startup CEO

Set Your Startup’s Hierarchy of Needs

You’re the foundation of your startup, but startups have a hierarchy of needs just like people do.

It’s not enough to just determine which problem you want to solve and the end state you want to reach. You’re responsible for the mission, vision, strategy, goals, and roadmap — and yes, those are all different things.

Lenny Rachitsky helped visualize the difference:

As your startup and team grow you may eventually have less to actually do around these:

But setting up the foundational structures are explicitly your job, and in the early days you’ll be doing it all.

You will fail at this sometimes. You may even need to tweak the foundational layers of the pyramid. That’s ok. To minimize the number and impact of your misses, engage mentors and read more than you think you have time for. In particular, investor letters have helped me hone my mindset.

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